The Masters champ and tournament host both came to play Thursday at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Danny Willett missed the cut last week at The Players Championship, but he flashed the form that helped him don a green jacket with his opening-round, 7-under 65 at the K Club. It gave Willett a two-shot lead over former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, whose eponymous foundation is hosting this week's event in County Kildare.
Last week was Willett's first start since his surprising Masters triumph, but he appears to have kicked off any lingering rust. The Englishman carded eight birdies against just one bogey, taking only 23 putts to complete his opening round after finding 12 of 18 greens in regulation.
For McIlroy, it's a stark contrast to last year's event at Royal County Down, where he hosted this tournament for the first time and promptly missed the cut. Like Willett, McIlroy dropped only one shot, adding six birdies including three in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 9-13. He missed only one green in regulation.
While he hasn't won since the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November, McIlroy entered off a T-12 finish at The Players Championship and has insisted for weeks that his game is close to returning to an elite level.
"I'm coming off a couple decent weeks in the States where I felt I played better than the results suggested," McIlroy said Wednesday. "The K Club is a course I feel I can do well on."
Other notable names on the early leaderboard include Martin Kaymer, who trails Willett by four shots after an opening 69, and Paul Dunne, who led the Open Championship after 54 holes last year as an amateur. Dunne shot a 2-under 70, one better than countryman Shane Lowry, who won this event seven years ago as an amateur and opened with 71.